Sunday, January 21, 2018

Can we end the slaughter on our roads?

Not a Happy New Year for this poor wallaby or its cousins. There was another just a few feet away

In case you've missed the photo, I am talking about native animals here, not humans.
It’s official- Tasmania is the Roadkill Capital  of the world. Anyone who has been to Tasmania can’t fail to be shocked by the number of dead animals on our roads, although many councils do make an effort to clear dead and injured animals away.

Estimates range from 500,000 animals killed per year to over a million and upwards or more than 30 every hour.This is doubly tragic because most of our wild animals aren’t found anywhere else – the devils, the wombats, the platypi, the echidnas, the quolls, bettongs, potoroos, pademelons and bandicoots, not to mention other marsupials, birds and reptiles.  Many of them, especially the Tasmanian devil, are already endangered.*

The causes are many – greater numbers say some; land clearing for plantations or housing developments which force existing populations to find new territories;   drought –  because roads create more run - off and their culverts tend to retain water and promise tender shoots; the search for mates; the warmth of the road in the case of reptiles and so on. I am not convinced that people throwing out apple cores contributes greatly as one person said. After all, you can drive the 260 km length of the Lyell Highway and see plenty of roadkill but you would be hard pressed to find a single apple core. Not that I am saying that you should throw out food.

More likely it is because some other animal has already been killed. This is especially true in the case of carrion eaters such as crows, devils and eagles.  It is also said that native animals die while trying to get to urban gardens because they are more tempting, but my guess is that there is far more traffic the other way - i.e. humans encroaching on bushland, which has the same effect, but requires a different response. An interesting test would be to see whether the road toll increases or decreases after land clearing. I also suspect that that there is now a lot more traffic on our backroads that in the past, making more roadkill both more likely and more visible.  

Several organisations – among them the Tasmanian Wilderness Society, Boronong Wildlife Park , the Royal Automobile Club,  Parks and Wildlife,  and Stornaway who do much of the work for councils, are now are urging motorists to drive more slowly, especially between dusk and dawn. A positive outcome of recent research by Hobday and Minstrell (2008) is that many major roadkill blackspots have now been identified and this information can be downloaded to your GPS before you drive. [Sadly, this research was only undertaken because four Tasmanian devils, newly returned to the wild after being vaccinated against facial tumour disease (at a cost of $25,000 per devil), were killed on the roads within weeks of release]. 

Existing signs near Queenstown
More signage like the above plus information about what to with orphaned or injured wildlife -Boronong Wildlife Park for example, is available 24 hours a day, has also been suggested, along with a leaflet for tourists. However, in my experience of travelling around our lovely state there is usually nowhere safe to pull over if you do find an injured animal, and if you do, there is a good chance you will be hit by a speeding car or truck coming up behind.  When my German friends were travelling back from Port Arthur they were roundly abused by other drivers when they stopped to let an echidna pass. For as long as I can remember, Tasmanians have told me never to swerve for an animal lest I create a far worse accident. Historically, native animals have also been seen as a nuisance, as an overabundant competitor for food and crops, to be done away with as quickly as possible. Changing such attitudes will be difficult, especially when everyone is in a hurry – tourists and locals alike.

While any effort aimed at reducing the death of native animals on our roads is to be applauded, I would like to see more proactive measures which depend less upon the skill and will of drivers. Clearing roadsides to aid visibility and to reduce vegetation which could be attractive to wildlife, definitely comes into this category. However, it would be much better if we could create tunnels under the roads in known blackspots as they do in Canada and Alaska, though this may be wishful thinking in a state too poor to even separate cyclists from motorised traffic. Much could also be said about the reintroduction of buffer zones and wildlife corridors. Fencing could at least be tried in those areas which have now been identified. For those who only see everything in economic terms, it should be noted that accidents and injuries cost money too - ask any insurance company, and our native animals, alive preferably are also a major tourist drawcard. 

For tips on how to drive safely around wildlife see the site tasmanian wildlife matters. It also has information on what to do if you see an injured or orphaned animal, briefly outlined below.
  1. Call a rescue service for advice. 
  2. Be safe on roads and with stressed injured animals.
  3.  Keep the animal warm, especially orphans and animals in shock. A pillow case kept in the glovebox is good for transporting many species, and a sturdy pair of gloves is handy. Keep the animal as quiet and dark as possible and get it to help as soon as you can.
Keep a wildlife rescue phone number in the glovebox of your car or in your wallet. Phone DPIPWE on 6233 6556 during business hours or Bonorong Friends of Carers program at any time on 6268 1184.

Should you see any dead Tasmanian devils – contact the Save The Tasmanian Devil hotline
on 0497 338 457
*Contact this site too about what is happening with Tasmanian devils whose populations have fallen by 90% because of facial tumour disease. It also lists ways to help

Thursday, January 11, 2018

A Conquest at Last!

Approaching the summit of Hartz Peak

There I have done it and earned one genuine Peak Bagger’s point into the bargain. I have just climbed Hartz Peak all the way to the summit. The trouble is that the mountain has bagged me too.

Morning mist shrouds the mountains

My journey started pleasantly enough. It was early in the morning with dew still on the grass and the mountains shrouded in mist. Creeks burbled beneath the duckboards as I wound my way to Ladies’ Tarn. Though the floral display was not quite as spectacular as it had been last time when the waratah was in bloom, more modest flowers - starry eyed cushion plants, alpine daisies – yellow and white, or a scatter of blush pink trigger plants cheered me on my way. 

Along the duckboards
Bellendena Montana -Mountain Rocket, looks like cotton candy and comes in several colours

On nearing the Tarn the mists began to rise wraithlike from the plateau. You could now see the flush of new leaves -bronze or pale green, of the diminutive myrtles which clothe the lower slopes. From here on the formed track ends abruptly and you head directly uphill, through mud and up and over rocks and boulders. At the top of this there's a deceptively gentle sloping path for a while before you strike another rough sharp climb. 

The myrtle's bronze tips add a touch of colour to the lower slopes
This time I rested a while before tackling the next uphill spurt. Serried ranks of mountains began to appear, also the beautiful Lake Hartz, but the wind kept blowing and the mountain still refused to show its face. Now I was even more tired than I was last time. Was it really worth climbing further? I stalled a bit longer but then the thought of having to get to this level again was equally daunting. Did I need to give up on mountains altogether? Only a short distance further up I could see a bright splash of orange and not far beyond it, a clump of white with a flower spike the size of a gladiolus.  Curious now, I dragged my weary feet up another level, more scrubby this time, only to find that that both plants were a long way from the track. However, I had now reached the section where the track levels off just below the summit.

The mountains begin to reveal themselves

The flower that had caught my eye was still inaccessible, but it had lured me to the next level. Is this a Milligana?
I walked that, ditched my pack and started tackling the big boulders which had stopped me last time. This section was much shorter than I had imagined and as I crested the rise between the higher and lower summits, the clouds cleared and I could see them in all their crennelated glory. Three ladies who had lapped me on the way up, were already having lunch in the higher one and a young couple – an English backpacker and her friend had claimed the slightly lower one. It was getting pretty crowded up there. The first party to pass me was already on its way down and a group of three young Japanese (?) men was on its way up. Couldn’t help overhearing a member of the first group saying, “Easy pickings. Great views for so little effort.” Maybe they were Swiss. True this isn’t the Matterhorn, but it was quite enough for me.

Almost there

The Lower Summit

The ladies at lunch

You always think the way down is going to be easy/ easier, but it wasn’t. You have to be twice as careful not to trip and fall. I have rarely been so pleased to see my car and have sworn off hills for the time being, though I just might have another shot at Legges’ Tor, so long as someone promises to drive me all the way up Jacob’s Ladder and back again. 
There are those who bushwalk for the challenge - for the glory, to pit themselves against the elements, or to overcome their own limitations etc. but I'm not one of them. I go for the pleasure of seeing beautiful landscapes - the greenery, waterfalls, the lushness of our forests - all beauty and no pain at all if possible, thanks.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Have a good one!
This lovely picture is by Alice T. whose Mum has kindly allowed me to use it

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ben Lomond – Another peak unbagged

Ben Lomond in our sights

It’s a pity that Ben Lomond National Park is a bit off the beaten track, especially coming from Hobart – about 224.2 Km. Couldn't help thinking while wending my way over backroads from Evandale  that, given the traditional rivalry between Launceston and Hobart,  this was some kind of Launcestonian plot to keep those pesky southerners out.  

 Even after you manage to find your way to Upper Blessington, there are still 12 kilometres of unmade road to negotiate before you reach the park entrance. That done, you will find yourself in one of the most stunning and geologically fascinating landscapes in Tasmania, with its escarpments rising abruptly from the surrounding farmlands like the ramparts of  a vast mediaeval castle. Colonel Legge, who surveyed it in 1906 -09  regarded "(The)  Ben Lomond Plateau as the most remarkable physiographical feature in the State..."

Small Waratahs line the lower reaches of the track
 At the time, Ben Lomond was thought to be the highest peak in Tasmania, but  re -measurement in 1911-12 using theodolites, rather than more primitive instruments, showed its highest point to be 1572m, making it the second highest peak in Tasmania, after Mt. Ossa (1617m). However, despite most of Tasmania’s mountains being in the west of the state, 6 of the 15 peaks over 1500m are located here.  Indeed,  Parks and Wildlife say most of the Ben Lomond Plateau is above 1300 metres and about 14 Km. long and 6 Km. wide.

Skirting boulder fields on the way to the Big Opening
The walk starts at Carr Villa,*  a few kilometres above the campground which boasts not one but two flushing toilets. Only two or three other cars were in evidence there and we also met two mountain climbers at the start of the track. From there the trail goes steadily uphill over rocks and low growing shrubs – some waratah (not quite as brilliant as those in the Hartz, but nevertheless beautiful to see), mountain pepper, orange and yellow scoparia, yellow flowering pineapple grass and several types of white flowering shrubs. These continue all through ‘The Plains of Heaven,’ a wide swathe cut by a glacier, no doubt so named by the skiers who used to trek up here on horseback until the road was built in the 1930s. 

*Carr Villa is ironically named after a cemetery in Launceston as it was regarded as "the last resting place."

In The Plains of Heaven

Small tarns and Cushion Plants near the  ridgeline

 After what seemed like a very long climb, the track levelled off and took us past a couple of chalets. The track to Legges Tor — the highest point, starts here.  As with Hartz Peak, this is only a short sharp detour of around 20 to 30 minutes, but as with Hartz Peak, my legs were already threatening to give way at any moment and I feared that even that bit of extra mileage might do me in.  With neither of us expected back until late the next day, we promised ourselves we would do it in the morning and continued on our way.

An older chalet below Legges Tor Track

I was delighted to see the road far below us and hastened down to meet it. Only another few kilometres I thought, and then we would be back at our campsite having cups of tea. This was not true. A look at the map showed that we had another 12.5 kilometres to go, and that was just to get back to the car. The sign saying that the walk was 4 hours return had obviously been made by the same folk who thought that getting to Adamson's  Falls and back should only take two hours.
View from the top of  the road

By the time we reached the road I was just plodding, doggedly putting one foot in front of the other. The road itself – Jacob’s Ladder as it’s called, is perfectly spectacular having been blasted out of sheer rock on either side. As it snakes its way down there are views over other peaks, much of the Midlands, the North East and even Flinders Island. It must be one of the most exciting drives in Australia – better than Queenstown's 99, better than the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, especially when spiced up with a touch of ice or snow. 

Jacob's Ladder

Rocky sentinels overlook the one lane road. Some don't look very stable

... but the views are almost to die for
 See the scenery, the jagged, jumbled rocks and the hairpins here:

Looking up
As I sagged in a heap near the gate at the bottom of the main bends, my friend  valiantly offered to walk the remaining five kilometres or so to get the car.

He hadn’t been gone long when along came a car driven by the lovely Kate who owns a chalet in these parts. She stopped to ask if I was OK and kindly gave me a lift. She also picked up my friend who, though a good way down the road, was also looking a bit worse for wear. Nothing more was said, but I suspect we were both rather relieved that the morning dawned with light drizzle, getting us off the hook with respect to Legges Tor. Thanks very much for the ride Kate. We hope you have a lovely Christmas! And thanks to R for being so chivalrous.